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BOSTON – Opponents fear Marcus Smart because of his defense, which has made Celtics fans wonder just how fearful those opponents would be if his offense ever catches up.
Imagine no longer. The process appears to be well in motion.
Smart, starting in place of the injured Avery Bradley, continued an impressive stretch of play Saturday night when he went off for a season-high 22 points against the New Orleans Pelicans during Boston’s 117-108 victory at TD Garden. He torched the nets with his 7-for-10 shooting performance from the field that included five makes from downtown.
Simply put, he was on fire after falling into a rhythm that he said he hadn’t felt since early November.
“Not since we played in Washington,” Smart said of the last time his shot felt so smooth, alluding to his 20-point performance against the Wizards on Nov. 9.
That’s the last time Smart shot this well in bulk, but in reality, Saturday’s performance was a continuation of a notable two-week stretch of offensive play by the third-year guard.
Smart has been on a roll at the offensive end in multiple respects. For more than two weeks now, he has been both an efficient shooter and a pass-first point guard who has orchestrated the offense better than anyone on the team.
Smart has now shot an impressive 14-for-29 (48.3 percent) from long distance and 23-for-25 (92.0 percent) from the free-throw line over his last eight games, dating back to Dec. 23. Those aren’t just good numbers; those are great numbers.
Additionally, Smart has led the team during its last eight games in assists-per-36-minutes with an average of 6.3 – ahead of starting point guard and certain All-Star Isaiah Thomas, who averaged 6.2 during that stretch. Smart has made the right plays over and over, as evidenced by his assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.25-to-1, which is far and away the top mark on the team during that span.
“I’m just playing,” the guard said of his offensive rhythm. “The coaches are giving me a little more leeway with the ball.
“(With) me being a bigger guard, I’m keeping guys on my hips,” he continued, “And with Isaiah playing off the ball, it’s hard for a lot of guys to help and it opens up the floor a lot of other guys.”
There is no doubt that Thomas’ unbelievable stretch of scoring has opened things up for his teammates. Smart is one Celtic who has taken full advantage of the additional unoccupied real estate on the court.
He is becoming a legitimate offensive threat off the bounce, with the pass, and with his shot. Kelly Olynyk commented on Smart’s offensive pace following Saturday’s win.
“His maneuvering of the pick-and-roll has been unbelievable over the last month, for sure,” the big man said. “Just creating plays for other guys, making guys help, dishing, guys can make extra passes. He’s really dissecting [the defense] really well and I think he’s made a huge stride in that sense, and that’s what we need from him.”
Couple that type of patience and shooting with Smart’s All-Star-caliber defense, which he believes is currently at a level it had previously never reached, and the Celtics have a player that doesn’t come around all too often.
“A special player,” Isaiah Thomas said of this version of Smart. “He’s special, because he has the things you can’t teach. And when he has the full package, he’s a tough guard to handle, and when he plays like that, I bet we win 100 percent of the time.”
One-hundred percent of the time might be a bit of a stretch, but to give some context, the Celtics are 6-2 during Smart’s eight-game stretch of fantastic play at both ends of the court.
Opponents already fear Smart’s defense, but if this all-around play holds true for the long run? That’s scary.